Academy Award nominee Mike Figgis, director of Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and Timecode (2000), met with some of the North East’s leading filmmaking talent ahead of a special Q&A screening of his latest film, Suspension of Disbelief (2013), at the Tyneside Cinema. Chaired by Barbara McKissack, independent TV and film producer and former Head of Drama at BBC Scotland, the roundtable, run in partnership by NFM and Tyneside Cinema, gave an insight into Figgis’s approach to filmmaking on a budget and his motivation towards storytelling in cinemas.
Born in Carlisle, Figgis is renowned for his experiments with new and old technologies in film and an increased desire to draw away from conventional narrative. His most notable experiment came in Timecode where his split screen contained four quarters of unedited film sequences with Hollywood actors improvising along a satirical narrative structure about the film industry. Figgis continues to experiment with digital film and handheld cameras in Britain, as seen in his most recent feature, Suspension of Disbelief which was shot entirely on a Cannon 7D, exploring the language of film and its relationship with its audience.
Figgis recently raised eyebrows with an article in The Guardian which criticised Britain’s film industry, comparing the support given to British filmmakers to those in the US. When addressed at the roundtable event, Figgis commented on a feeling of class structure in the industry and the difficulties faced by filmmakers who are not a part of the ‘British film club’. After setting up a Twitter diary, he noted an immediate reaction to his article with many commenting on a feeling of distance from a ‘Southern club’ in the UK. Figgis’s article calls for more support from the BFI and distributers to support creativity in filmmaking regardless of whether the film has a ‘big star name’ attached.
Though during the roundtable Figgis addressed the difficulties he had in funding Suspension of Disbelief, he focused primarily on the practical and theoretical aspects of filmmaking – for example expressing a preference for using the Cannon 7D because of the modest scale of crew required to support its use. He also expressed the opinion that an audience will appreciate a story more than a visual spectacle, though he did concede that the close-up and clever management of the camera were integral to the storyworlds he creates for his audience: “the camera is the audience and you can manipulate the camera”. When asked about how he finds his stories, Figgis replied: “a lot of cinema I’m drawn to is about one thing. It could just be grief or desire or jealousy. Other things may occur but ultimately it’s about one thing. I tend to get drawn to those…you flip [the plot] and it’s suddenly more interesting.”
Suspension of Disbelief (15) is on general release now. For more on Mike Figgis click here.